All Angles and Lava (Intercambiador de Guaguas, Arrecife, Lanzarote, Spain)

It is a grand and long-standing tradition in my family that when you go on holiday, you come back with a whole load of photos, which you then show to everyone else in the family (and sometimes unlucky outsiders too), regardless of whether those family members want to see your photos or not.

Well, it’s time for some bad news. I recently went on holiday, and now I’m back I’m going to carry on that Wright family tradition by subjecting you to my holiday photos….for the next three weeks! [cackles evilly…]

First off then, let’s have a look at Lanzarote, one of the larger Canary Islands. Its capital Arrecife has not just one, but two bus stations, neither of which I knew anything about before I went.

Luckily, in amongst a scorching late-November day spent paddling in the sea, sunbathing and eating ice creams, I ended up here, at the not altogether imaginatively named Intercambiador de Guaguas (or local bus interchange) just to the west of the city centre.

Intercambiador de Guauguas, Arrecife. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-NSD 2.0] via this flickr album
Intercambiador de Guauguas, Arrecife. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

It is a modern facility with some interesting design features. Its metal roof is made up of several sections of corrugated metal, angled at various pitches and running north-south to keep the sun off the passengers below during the hottest part of the day. Those roof sections are supported on a metal frame, finished in bright orange paint. The varying planes of metal make for a very attractive effect, and I’m reasonably sure it’s no accident that orange is opposite blue on the colour wheel, given the high probability of blue skies over Lanzarote. It makes for a dramatic contrast between building and skyscape.

Roof details of Intercambiador de Guauguas, Arrecife. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-NSD 2.0] via this flickr album
Roof details of Intercambiador de Guauguas, Arrecife. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

Underneath the angular roof is a small building, with walls made of black lava rock, a ubiquitous local building material thanks to the volcanic nature of the Canary Islands; it’s strong but surprisingly light due to the bubbles of air which have been trapped in the solidified lava.

The building contains a ticket/enquiry office, a waiting room and some restrooms. The waiting room and restroom are ceilingless. They have walls, but are open at the top and sheltered by the bus station’s overall roof, much higher up. Doors and sliding window shutters are of heavy, good quality wood and the signage is neat and clear. Litter bins and benches are made of polished stone (I want to say granite because it usually is, but I can’t be absolutely sure). Stainless steel mesh fences break up other parts of the bus station.

Lava blocks used for construction can be seen here. Wooden shutters for the windows, instead of opening on hinges, instead slide across. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-NSD 2.0] via this flickr album
Lava blocks used for construction can be seen here. Wooden shutters for the windows, instead of opening on hinges, instead slide across. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

The planting scheme is very Lanzarote, comprising little cactus gardens on gravel. These gardens soften the overall design and provide some welcome greenery, but of course don’t require expensive or inefficient watering.

According to a nearby sign, the Intercambiador generates considerable amounts of its own power requirements on-site, through a wind turbine (which I did see) and solar photovoltaics (which try for the life of me I couldn’t spot but assume to be somewhere up on the angled roof). Together, they are rated at 6.1kW and can generate some 6,700kWh over a year.

It’s a neat piece of design, nothing earth shattering but considerably more affordable than something really avant-garde. It’s also perfectly designed for Lanzarote. If this bus station turned up in one of the colder wetter bits of the British Isles (I always get into trouble when I name them even though I’m actually a native of one, but they know where they are) I’d be distinctly non-plussed. But in Lanzarote, there’s not a large number of mizzly drizzly days to worry about. It’s the sun you want protection from when you’re waiting for a bus, and here the Intercambiador works really well. The sea breeze can blow through the structure, keeping the roofless rooms cool, while the overall roof stops direct sunlight from scorching what’s underneath. The use of local materials in the construction strongly ties the Intercambiador to its surroundings, and I’m always susceptible to the charms of a bit of on-site power generation.

Inside the waiting room. There is no ceiling as such, as the room is open at the top; the bus station's own roof providing shelter. This arrangement allows the breeze to cool the waiting area naturally. The wall at the end of the waiting room is made of metal mesh, again allowing natural ventilation. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-NSD 2.0] via this flickr album
Inside the waiting room. There is no ceiling as such, and the room is open at the top; the bus station’s own roof provides shelter. This arrangement allows breezes to cool the waiting area naturally. The wall at the end of the waiting room is made of metal mesh, again allowing natural ventilation. Photo by Daniel Wright [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr album

The Intercambiador opened in December 2009 to a design by architects Alejandro Muñoz and Maria Jose Miranda. It cost €750,000, which is really very reasonable for a modern bus station.

It does what it says on the tin, allowing interchange between longer distance coach services on Lanzarote, and the local buses – or Guaguas. ‘Guaguas’, in case you’re interested, appears to be a particular Canary Islands term for local buses. I’ve always known the Spanish for such to be simply “autobúses”, so I asked a Spanish friend, who just laughed when she heard about the name Guaguas, and seemed to indicate this was precisely the sort of thing she’d expect from the Canary Islanders.

Whatever they’re called, the buses and coaches seemed to operate on a sort of Swiss-style system, arriving and departing within a few minutes of each other at particular times over the course of an hour, allowing passengers to change between routes without excessive waiting periods. Between these rushes of activity, it all went very quiet. At least, that was what appeared to be happening, and I assume it was all planned. It’s not impossible that there was just severe bunching of services the day I visited.

Arrecife is spoiled for choice when it comes to Intercambiadores, with its second one on the northern side of the city. While this represents marvellous provision for the locals, it makes life more difficult for tourists. Literature about catching buses tends to refer simply to catching them at the bus station, without necessarily making it clear which one, or indeed in some cases that there actually is more than one.

Sadly, the other Intercambiador is of less architectural interest, and anyway there was no chance my partner was going to let me drag her all the way to it just so I could take a few photos to prove the point. Not when there was a beach to enjoy and ice-cream to eat, mine being a gargantuan mint choc chip.

Instead I was content to admire a smart piece of bus infrastructure which enhances the image of bus travel on Lanzarote. It goes to show what you can do for relatively small amounts of money. What is also highlights is an interesting difference in the attitude of local authorities in Lanzarote compared to those in Britain. Whereas the land on which the new Intercambiador was built was made available by Arrecife City Council, in Britain local authorities have instead made a speciality of selling off bus stations to realise the land value underneath, the value of such facilities to public transport users be damned.

That’s even reached the ludicrous extreme of the likely demolition of Vauxhall Bus Station so that the land can be used for commercial development, with its neatly organised bus stops to be scattered to the four winds, or rather several of the surrounding streets, and its sheltering canopy razed. It’ll still be a bus station after this, insist project promoters Transport for London and Lambeth Council, because there will (probably) be a new canopy somewhere in there. Er, no it won’t.

A bus station, as Lanzarote efficiently demonstrates, is a sheltered facility in a single location, hopefully attractive both visually and in terms of utility, where you can swap between bus routes or get off and walk to the shops (or onto the beach). A single location isn’t optional, it’s core to the concept. The cacti? They’re optional.

Bibliography and further reading

Press release about the opening of the Intercambiador de Guagas in Arrecife, issued by the Canary Islands Government, here

How to find Arrecife’s Intercambiador de Guaguas

Click here for the map

2 thoughts on “All Angles and Lava (Intercambiador de Guaguas, Arrecife, Lanzarote, Spain)

  1. Hi Daniel
    I know the Intercabiador only too well, being a reasonably regular visitor to Lanzarote.
    Thought you’d like to know that “guagua” is the word for bus in Spanish-speaking South America. Like your friend, most Spanish people find this funny – and rightly so!
    Although, quite how it came to be used in the Islands…

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